Assam on Fire by Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam (AUGUST 28, 2012)

News Analysis

Assam is burning in the run-up to 2014 elections, the flames fanned by ethnic rivalries and RSS manipulation, writes Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam after returning to Delhi from the state’s refugee camps.

After a whole month of intermittent killings, curfew and purposeful, determined ethnic cleansing, the violence in Assam is yet to cease. On August 25, when I was still in Assam, meeting victims, relief workers and government officials, five Bangla-speaking Muslims were shot dead by motorcycle-borne Bodo militants.

The next day two more bodies were discovered. Officially, about 80 people have been killed, but a respectable news magazine published from Delhi reported an army officer saying the actual death toll could be five times higher. However, death and serious, life-long injury are only part of a larger genocidal plan in which a section of media has been playing the part of agent provocateur.

Granted that it is an ethnic conflict between Bodos and Bangla-speaking inhabitants of the Bodoland area, but the fact remains that more than 90 percent of the victims of the killers are Muslims, and most of the four lakh refugees in the camps, too, are Muslims. Chief Minister Tarun Kumar Gogoi is on record saying that the BJP has been fishing in troubled wars.

Trust the BJP and Sangh Parivar to turn every conflict in the country into a Hindu-Muslim equation. Earlier also, an agitation against the exploitative trade practices of money- lenders and Banias from other states of the country was turned into an anti-Bangla-speaking-Muslim agitation by the Sangh.

The same sleight of hand changed the Mandal agitation into a Kamandal campaign against Muslims all over India, resulting in the demolition of Babri Masjid and a wave of anti-Muslim pogrom over a sizeable part of India. Lal Krishn Advani went to th extent of claiming that through his Kamandal campaign he had stopped Mandal in its tracks. The same time-tested strategy was applied in Gujarat four decades ago to divert an agitation over reservation into anti-Muslim hysteria, mass murder and arson.

In their famous treatise on RSS, Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags, a group of eminent historians have documented how since its inception in the second decade of the last century, RSS had been regularly turning other social conflicts into Hindu-Muslim violence. Today’s Assam has this angle, too.

Half a dozen districts around Kokrajhar are affected by this sustained campaign of ethnic cleansing of Bangla-speaking Muslims. Mischievously, the Bangla-speaking Muslims have often been reported in a section of the media as “Bangladeshis”. This blatant distortion of the fact was begun by local BJP–RSS cadres and further amplified by the pseudo-secular Mr LK Advani after a short visit to Assam. He made it look like an Indian versus foreigners issue.

One August 22, Gogoi said in Guwahati, “How can people who came ages ago, adopted your language and culture be termed foreigners?”

The fact is that under the Foreigners Act only those people who came into settle after June 1971 are regarded as foreigners, detected and deported. A majority of Bangla-speaking people from erstwhile East Bengal, most of them Muslims, began to settle in the area under British patronage since the last years of the 19th century.

The British wanted them to cultivate fallow lands so that the government could increase revenue. The inflow of settlers continued after the British left India. Those who had come in at the time of Indo-Pak war over the creation of Bangladesh were mostly sent back after the war. In the meanwhile, competion for natural resources had grown to an extent that further inflow was deterred both by the new law and tighter BSF patrols near areas that could allow inflow of Bangladeshis into Assm. The BSF tells anybody who cares to ask that the Bangladesh-Assam borders are tightly sealed.

The narrative created by Bodo leaders and BJP is largely responsible for the strife. One Bodo leader asks rhetorically, “If there are officially only 2.3 lakh Bengalis in Kokrajhar, how come there are four lakh refugees in the camps?” the answer is that all refugees are not from Kokrajhar, but from a far more larger area around it, and all of them are not Bangla speakers or Muslims.

A particular point to remember is that this massive upheaval is not new to Assam, or the north-east, for that matter. The north-eastern region, mainly organised as linguistic states during Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s time, is a volatile, explosive mix of tribes, languages, tribal exclusiveness, mutual suspicion and historical antagonism. Periodic spasms like the present one are a recognised pattern of life here. A nationalist, cohesive perspective is missing and political parties have done nothing to create it.

Here in the north-eastern region “foreigners” means different things at different times. As many as one million Indians from different states have been driven out over the last 20 years.

(To be continued)


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